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Characteristics, Signs, and Symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder
When Your Loved One Suffers From Borderline Personality Disorder
When I originally wrote this article, I wrote it for other people. I felt compelled to share with others the fact that this insidious disorder exists, and explain how they could recognize the symptoms. That was several years ago, and at the time the original version was entitled "Does Your Teenager have Borderline Personality Disorder?" Back then, the disorder wasn't well known and treatment options were extremely limited. Few people knew of Marsha Linehan's breakthrough therapy using Dialectical Behavior Therapy to treat individuals diagnosed with BPD.
For you--the readers who have been scarred by this disorder--you understand to your core the traumatic emotional impact this disorder has on both the BPD sufferer and their loved ones. It is so excruciatingly unfair. It almost seems an injustice to use the word 'unfair'. Unfair is such a simple word, but I can't find any better way to describe it. No person deserves to feel the way this disorder makes them feel, and no families deserve to watch a loved one go through it. This being said, it is not intended to minimize the heart-ache the family feels when the Borderline treats them cruelly. That alone is utterly exhausting, which is why it is so extremely important the sufferer begin treatment as early as possible.
For those of you who haven't experienced first-hand the impact of this horrendous disorder, please be grateful. A good way to describe it is to imagine being stripped of armor and marching into battle. Every step forward increases the already unrestrained anxiety engulfing your body. As you engage, you are fully exposed and completely unprotected from your enemy, but you continue to push forward with the fear of knowing this could finally be the end of it all. Each strike against you is pure torture and you would rather be dead than to endure the insurmountable pain, but there is something inside of you that has convinced you every tortuous blow somehow releases some of your pain; even if only for a moment. You wholeheartedly believe you deserve this suffering and agony, and somehow the situation you are in--having no armor--is entirely your fault because you are broken.
For the Borderline, it is their feelings that are fully exposed. They have no armor to protect them. They experience emotions so fully and deeply, and they don't have the necessary coping mechanisms to manage them. Death is a desire so tempting, and self-mutilation like cutting helps relieve some of the pain. The result of this emotional intensity combined with severe depression and anxiety causes reactions geared toward those who love the Borderline that are rooted in anger. Simultaneously, because they believe they are unlovable and bad, they repeatedly engage in self-defeating and self-deprecating behaviors, all because they want to be loved. For the Borderline, simple words cut like daggers, and rather than allow an emotion to surface and become out of control, Borderline's will shut down completely and continue on, sorrowful and broken with the all-consuming emptiness they are never able to fill.
When I originally wrote this article, I knew so little about this disorder even though I had thoroughly researched the topic. It was a newer diagnosis, and interesting to me. Now as I revise it, I know so much more about the characteristics and the symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder. I know about treatments and even a few facilities dedicated to treating only BPD. After all these years I realize there is so much more I have to learn. I have to learn how people cope with the despair, the fear, the frustration, the hurt, from both the sufferers perspective, and the perspective of the Borderline's loved ones. Writing this article now and looking back to where I began has been cathartic. Now that I revise, I realize that all along it was written about my daughter and I know how important it is to treat the whole disease, which includes the families. My biggest regret is I didn't know then what I know now because I could have been so much farther ahead.
Clarification of Intent
In this article, I occasionally refer to the individual suffering from Borderline Personality Disorder, or BPD, as "Borderlines." This is not meant to convey a negative connotation to the individual suffering with this disorder. It is only meant to provide the reader with a clear sense of the subject. Additionally, the information contained in the article can be applied to the reader, if they are suffering from BPD, or it may be useful for a care-giver or family member of someone with BPD.
Characteristics of Borderline Personality Disorder
Borderline Personality Disorder is recognized as a relatively new personality disorder, and has a reputation for being misunderstood and extremely difficult to effectively treat. It is characterized by several distinct features, of which, difficulty sustaining relationships and intense extremes in mood and emotion lie at the heart. A highly negative self-image plagues the individual with Borderline Personality Disorder, causing pervasive patterns of self-defeating behaviors that naturally set the Borderline up to fail over and over again. As a result, most Borderlines experience intense levels of anger and depression from which they cannot seem to fully recover.
Failure becomes a centralized theme in the life of the Borderline as almost a self-fulfilling prophecy. Understanding the disease for what it is, and trying to get the Borderline into treatment as soon as possible will yield the best chance for you and your loved ones to be able to successfully cope. Because it is difficult to distinguish some normal behaviors from those that would be extreme enough to be considered on the spectrum of a disorder, it is important to get yourself or your loved one in to see a health professional quickly if you suspect they may have a personality disorder. Below you will find some questions that can help serve as a guide to determine if you or your loved one have Borderline Personality Disorder.
Resources for Families Dealing with Borderline Personality Disorder
I Hate You-Don't Leave Me was one of the first books available to help families better understand BPD and develop strategies to take an active role in building better relationships with the Borderline. It is one of the first books I turned to help myself better understand how Borderline Personality Disorder impacts my daughter. It allowed me to be more conscious in my interactions with her so we could work more on building our relationship instead of unintentionally tearing it down more and more everyday.
This is the newest edition of the book that started my journey into not blaming myself for my daughter's disorder, and attempting to heal from the tumultuous relationship we had. This edition includes research that highlights potential causes of Borderline Personality Disorder, which has been significantly speculative up until now. It also connects Borderline Personality Disorder to concurrent diseases and disorders like substance abuse, sexual abuse, Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome, ADHD, and eating disorders. Pharmacological and psychotherapeutic advancements provide hope for success in the treatment and understanding of BPD.
I highly recommend this book as a starting point in your quest for information about Borderline Personality Disorder. After 20+ years, it is still one of the go-to books for information on BPD. Start your healing process here.
Do You Have Trouble Sustaining Friendships?
This doesn't apply to the individual who simply prefers to be a "loner," and chooses to have very few friends. There is a huge distinction to be made between introversion and BDP. For individuals with Borderline Personality Disorder, it's a struggle to maintain relationships. All relationships are affected--friends, family, co-workers, bosses, significant others. Those with BPD are back and forth and upside down when it comes to relationships.
Keep in mind, Borderlines can effectively maintain rapport with another individual if they are receiving validation of their feelings. Otherwise, Borderlines typically lack the ability or understanding to be able to make a relationship work. It's very common to hear that a borderline can "turn it on and off" whenever they desire. This is extremely true to the point they may seem to have distinct personalities, but this is not the likely case. Overall though, the tendency to dissociate is found to be prevalent with the disorder.
Borderlines can appear very selfish, superficial and sometimes quite calculating. Relationships don't matter to the Borderline except as a means of personal validation. It isn't that they choose to be this way. The simple fact is that their behaviors are destructive coping mechanisms and without help, they don't know any other responses to be able to escape the extreme, unmanageable pain they often experience.
Borderlines can lie, cheat and steal in front of your eyes and two minutes later deny it, then twenty minutes later say ”I'm sorry" and expect that everything will be o.k. between the two of you. They can't comprehend why you no longer trust them. Furthermore, they will find a reason to blame their behavior on you. Many create a reality that exists only to them, and they live in that reality no matter what facts they are presented with.
While the Borderline can seem very disconnected and unable to form healthy attachments to others, it doesn't mean they don't deserve to be loved. Although BPD is a difficult disorder to treat, it doesn't mean it is impossible. If a Borderline is able to build trust with a therapist and can conceptualize that small steps will eventually become huge strides in successful treatment, they can be helped. And if they can build a support system of loved ones who are willing to be involved in the recovery process and validate the Borderline's very real, intense, feelings, Borderlines can avoid relapse into old habits for many years.
This is not to say family members should tolerate poor treatment at the hands of the Borderline, and it doesn't mean they shouldn't create boundaries. It also doesn't mean that the Borderline will not experience set-backs on the road to recovery. Co-occurring disorders can also complicate the recovery process and may slow it down some. It doesn't mean recovery isn't possible. It just means that one families recovery will not look like anyone else's. Knowing these things and ensuring the foundation for a successful recovery is securely in place allows for the entire family unit to heal together.
Stop Walking on Eggshells
This book is another example of one of the early books out about Borderline personality Disorder. It is written specifically to be used as a resource for those of us who care for a Borderline. It is another book that I highly, highly recommend for any of you who love your Borderline and refuse to give up on them, but aren't prepared to continue to deal with the Borderline's extreme swings in moods and behavior. Whenever there was an outburst in my home I would retreat to my bedroom and pick up this book and find the section that applied the best. It worked for me like a paperback counselor on many tearful nights.
If you feel manipulated, controlled, and lied to, and are you the focus of irrational, intense rages, this updated edition of 'stop walking on eggshells' is for you. It has been purchased by over half a million people who love their Borderline and who are not going to give up on them. Not only does it help with an understanding of the disorder, it helps you establish loving boundaries while still being able to provide your Borderline with a sense of validation. This truly is a must-read for anyone who cares for a Borderline.
Rules for Relationships with Borderlines
Do You Experience Intense Fluctuations in Mood?
Everyone can be moody at times, but people with Borderline Personality Disorder experience mood swings on a much higher level than everyone else. Borderline mood swings should not be confused with behaviors induced by chemical imbalances like depression or bipolar disorder. Borderlines tend to become extremely angry and depressed, sometimes at the drop of a hat, but unlike diseases like bipolar disorder, for the Borderline there is a trigger. It is usually something so small that no one else would notice, but to the Borderline it can feel monumental. If there isn't an environmental trigger that exists, a Borderline can quickly create something big enough in their own reality to send them into a downward spiral. Most of the time these intense moods will last just a few hours, or at the most a day, but the variations can happen quickly and often. To the onlooker, the intensity of anger or "moodiness" can seem quite unjustified in relationship to the circumstance, and most likely they are right. Although anger can often take center stage, it can also present as attitudes of indifference, spitefulness, meanness, joy, euphoria, passive-agressiveness, or just plain shutting down. No matter what the particular mood, rest assured that as a caretaker, deservedly or not, you will be made painfully aware of it.
As the caregiver of a Borderline, this is an important concept to understand. It is during these times that you become the enemy. Regardless of the reason the Borderline experience declines in mood, you will become the target of hostility, aggression, and possibly violence. It is during these times that you must have a strategy to validate the Borderline's feelings while still maintaining boundaries for yourself. This is why I recommend gathering is much information as you can about the BPD diagnosis. Chat rooms are a great place to share experience and learn new coping methods for yourself.
For you, the Borderline, we realize you hurt and we realize the depths of the pain you feel are real to you. We love you and we aren't going to leave you, so please stop trying to push away. We were here for you before you were angry, and we will continue to be here for your after, but we cannot be the targets of aggression and abuse. We also know that when you shut down it is because if you release your feelings, it will come out like an eruption and you don't want to feel that much pain. Know we are here and we love you, and every day we are working on developing stronger methods for coping with the fear we sometimes have of you, but more so for the fear we have for you. We want to be here to help you develop new coping methods for you, as well. Let us know when you are ready. Please remember, besides the unconditional love we hold for you, the reason you feel the way you do is not your fault.
The Borderline Personality Disorder Survival Guide: Everything You Need to Know About Living with BPD
Because each case of Borderline Personality Disorder presents differently, it is helpful to join support groups either in person or online. It al great books now available that were not available at the time this article was originally written. The Borderline Personalty Disorder Survival Guide: Everything You Need to Know About Living with BPD has helpful information for anyone involved in the care of the Borderline, including the Borderline. It provides easy to understand information on what BPD is, discusses current available treatments and as co-occurring conditions.
The Borderline Personality Disorder Survival Guide is written to help anyone involved in the BPD spectrum build a strong basic understanding of what BPD is and why Borderline's behave the way they do.
Borderline Personality Disorder
Do Others Say You are Emotionally Immature for Your Age?
Events that create Borderline Personality Disorder tend to occur in children that are old enough to realize what is happening in their lives, but too young to comprehend the entirety of the situation. As a result, many times they become frozen at the stage of the tragedy, both emotionally and mentally. They hold on to the events that were occurring immediately prior to the tragedy with fervor. For instance, maybe you were heavily involved in a particular sport when the other parent left the home. You may hold on feverishly to that sport throughout your teen years and beyond because it feels normal and good, and it was occurring the last time your life felt normal and happy.
As a result, you may find yourself drawn to friendships with people younger than you. Interestingly enough, because your emotional state became somewhat stunted, as you age, you will still relate to children the age you were at the time of the tragedy. Younger BPDs may be able to build successful relationships with those whom they truly can relate. Additionally, because the disorder carries an entire aspect of self-destruction with it, you may find yourself or your loved one relating to individuals of any age that may somehow help carry on their pattern of self-destruction. It is important for the Borderline to understand these aren't true relationships.
Do You Exhibit Black and White Thinking?
This one is pretty self explanatory. Borderlines exhibit very "either/or" patterns in thinking. This is also known as "splitting." For instance, you may want to attend a function. If a family member begins making suggestions about what you should wear or when you should be home, you may find yourself quickly deciding you don't want to go at all. It is an "all or nothing" type of behavior. Either I do what I want, or I do nothing at all. Borderlines also exhibit behavior splitting. This means you may demonize someone one minute, and then idolize them the next. There is no in-between. You can't rationalize that in betweens exist. You either absolutely hate someone or you absolutely love them. This behavior can vacillate quickly, especially when someone doesn't provide you with exactly what you want at the very moment you want it. In doing this, you can make others feel intensely used and unappreciated.
Do You Have Lofty Ambitions and Intentions and Make Plans You Don't Follow Through On?
As seen with the concept of the Borderline setting up relationships to fail, Borderlines can also set themselves up to fail. You may recognize you have a tendency to either create elaborate goals and plans that would be impossible to accomplish. Conversely, you may be in such turmoil, you find it impossible to even think about making future plans and setting goals. This occurs partially because you haven't learned the appropriate executive functions necessary for time management. Additionally, you don't possess the appropriate coping mechanisms to deal with intense feelings or the intense anxiety and depression that often accompanies the disorder. It isn't your fault and you are not a failure. You always need to keep that in the fore-front of your mind. You also need to remember that you have to move forward and make the choice every day, all day, to be healthy and happy.
What BPD Feels Like
Do You Engage in Self-Destructive Behaviors on a Consistent Basis?
Because a Borderline can become so depressed and may view themselves as a horrible, unlovable person, a key characteristic is self-destructive behavior. Borderlines, even though emotionally immature, can be highly adept at lying and manipulation. Borderlines consistently live on the edge of criminal behavior, and impulsively engage in self-defeating, risky behavior. It may be sex, drugs and/or alcohol, or it may be lying cheating and stealing. Unfortunately, since the life of a Borderline becomes focused on survival rather than establishing meaningful relationships, and they typically has such low self-esteem, anything is game. Borderlines have a negative self-image. That, combined with a high desire for attention, they will physically harm themselves. Suicide attempts are typical for the Borderline, as well as cutting. Borderlines may begin with feeble suicide attempts to gain attention, and later on succeed. It is estimated that 10% of Borderline sufferers end up committing suicide.
Do You Have an Intense Fear of Being Alone?
Many Borderlines exhibit BPD as a result of being abandoned at some point in their lives. There are other reasons, like inconsistent parenting, or an event that causes post-traumatic stress disorder, but abandonment issues become central themes in the lives of almost all Borderlines. Abandonment issues can arise out of a divorce that results in the loss of a parent from a child's life or the death of a parent--really anything that creates a hole in the life of a Borderline turns the unresolved issue into a profound fear for the rest of their life. Borderlines fear abandonment to the extreme they may work feverishly to force people from their lives before they can again be abandoned. Hence, one of the biggest reasons Borderlines are unable to maintain relationships is because of this intense fear of abandonment.
Borderlines can't comprehend their faultlessness in the issue that likely helped case the disorder. It is common for Borderlines to view themselves as inherently bad, and quite unlovable. They tend to push people away, while at the same time holding onto them so closely they can't leave. They send very conflicting messages, and even though there are times they seem withdrawn, it could be a part of a manipulative attempt to get someone to notice them.
How to Get Help
It is important to remember that all Borderlines do not experience all of the same signs and symptoms. There may be behaviors not listed here, or there may be combinations of behaviors that occur differently in a Borderline. Additionally, Borderline Personality Disorder may run concurrently with any one, or a combination of, several disorders. The important thing is getting your teen in to see a qualified professional as soon as possible. Since Borderline Personality Disorder is so difficult to treat and should be tested for, treatment started as early as possible seems to provide the most positive results. Treatments for other disorders can vary tremendously from effective treatment for Borderlines, and without the proper treatment, you may do more damage to your teen. Make sure you choose a medical professional experienced in dealing specifically with Borderline Personality Disorder. Marsha Linehan’s Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) is a popular choice for Borderline Personality Disorder treatment. Aaron Beck published Cognitive Therapy of Personality Disorders to show how his Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) could benefit individuals with Borderline Personality Disorder. Some mood stabilizing medications have been shown to help somewhat in alleviating the extreme of the behavior the Borderline is experiencing. Medicinenet.com has one of the most detailed and completely updated descriptions of Borderline Personality Disorder currently available and it is highly recommended that you utilize this resource to help in your search for information.
Keep in mind that while it is wonderful that you are taking the steps to get your teen the help they so desperately need, it is just as important that you take the time to educate yourself so that you are not pulled in to the Borderline's realm. Learn the things that are not your fault, and learn the signs of manipulation. One of the most powerful things you can do as a caregiver is to stop allowing negative behaviors to occur in your presence, and believe it or not, you can do it without a fight. You will find that many Borderlines will return with another approach, but each time you shut one type of behavior down, it is more likely they will return with an appropriate behavior. Chances are high they are attempting some passive-aggressive behavior to get what they want, but it is important that you are consistent. It doesn't matter if they come at you 28 different ways. Remain consistent and do not allow manipulation. Check out their statements and activities to determine truthfulness and do not be afraid to be forthright in what you will and will not allow in their behavior. It is imperative for your mental health that you take the time to thoroughly understand the disorder so that you can react appropriately and at the same time protect your own mental health. It can be exhausting and can feel hopeless living with a Borderline child, but you need to remember, most of their behaviors have nothing to do with you. It might feel like it sometimes, but it truly is stemming from their own fears and low self esteem. Keeping your emotions balanced throughout this time is of the utmost importance.
Borderline Personality Disorder Information
- borderlineresearch.org: The Leading Borderline Research Site on the Net
- Borderline Personality Disorder Symptoms, Medication, Treatment, Causes and Diagnosis by MedicineNet
Learn about borderline personality disorder (BPD) symptoms, causes and diagnosis. Treatment involves medication and psychotherapy, such as dialectical behavior therapy (DBT).
- Teen Moodiness, or Borderline Personality Disorder? - NYTimes.com
Dr. Alec Miller responds to readers' questions about borderline personality disorder in adolescents.
- Borderline Personality Adolescents - What You Need to Know About Borderline Personality Adolescents
Get the facts about borderline personality adolescents. How is borderline personality in children? What are the symptoms? How can you find help for a borderline personality adolescent?
© 2011 Kacie Turner